What is Nathan Lawr's favourite protest song?
Minotaur's frontman on political songs that matter
The Minotaurs, Nathan Lawr (centre)
Art, by itself, cannot change the world. It can, however, inspire people to change it. A powerful protest song, for example, can rally a group of people to action. It can help them stay strong in the face of extreme opposition. It can act as a vessel for an idea, keeping it alive through periods of disfavor or until it can gain traction and return to popularity.
A good protest song speaks the truth in an artful way. It is brave and it is unabashed. It does not belong to any one style of music or genre. Some of the most powerful protest songs are not the Dylan/Seeger-style of acoustic strummy stuff. Nina Simone’s "Mississippi Goddamn" is a visceral challenge to the racist status quo of '60s America. Fela Kuti’s "Zombie" pulls no punches in its indictment of the Nigerian kleptocracy that ruled during his height of popularity. And is there a more riveting, absolutely gutting song than Strange Fruit by Billie Holliday?
One of my all time faves though is "Ohio" by Crosby, Still, Nash, and Young. I’ve found myself very often these days longing for a contemporary artist to do something as powerful and relevant. Recorded and released within days of the shooting at Kent State University, the song is brave, pointed, and obviously hooky as hell to boot. There are more than enough things in today’s world to inspire such outrage.